My Memory Bank

Every Mediterranean Holiday I’ve Ever Had

Day something in the great lock down and my place is tidier than a monk’s cell so while I’m thinking of what past travels to write about, I’m sorting half a lifetime’s accumulation of trivia, travel books, cards and pamphlets kept from the last great tidying session when I downsized six years ago.   It’s been hard, but hey, I’ve managed to throw out two books, and at least five pamphlets I’ll never read again and I have put some of the postcards aside to send to friends!  The rest will have to stay put until the next national crisis.  More I cannot do!

So here are just a few pictures that remind me of happy times.

Sifting through my memory box I relive and recall trips which have slipped to the back of my mind.  These in turn encourage me to look out photographs, some prints, some transparencies which I must get down to converting to digital images one of these days.  Black and white prints, slides, then coloured prints and finally digital prints and computer discs. And then there are the old family photos and my husbands wartime photos in Burma to be sorted through one day.

It was the early sixties when we discovered a little village called Castel de Ferro when the son of the owner of the only hotel there jumped out in front of our car to stop us and invite us in to see the new swimming pool. Those were innocent days when we politely stopped and they actually thought it was a good way to get tourists to stay with them.

And stay we did, for two weeks or so, during which time the local boy-goatherds followed me around wherever I went. They had never seen a ‘foreigner’ before and when my husband took them all for a ride in the green Austin van we had in those days, their giddy pleasure knew no bounds. We spent many hours with them and we’d supply a picnic as they were on the mountains from dawn till dusk with only a few scraps to eat, caring for the skinny goats. On the day we left all the little boys were crying and it near broke my heart.

Spain opened to tourism sometime in the fifties, and those of us who went then were greeted with warmth and friendliness. Franco had kept Spain out of World War Two (it was a broken country after the Civil War 1936-39 anyway) but as he leaned heavily towards the Axis’ powers help was not forthcoming to re-structure the country. Until the advent of the Cold War and the West’s fear of Russia that is, when the need for strategic military basis and airports ushered in the Marshall Plan, and Spain, along with other countries in Europe received aid, mainly from the USA, which helped it get back on its feet again.

It took a long time though, for the infrastructure to get into place. For many years the roads throughout Spain bore the chalked message “Franco, Mas Arboles, Mas Agua, Mas Carreteras” (more trees, more water, more roads). Not only were the existing roads in dire states but there were few of them. The above photo of the car breakdown took place on the main road between Valencia and Granada. Our car hit a rock or stone in the middle of the road and combined with driving on many untarmacked roads throughout our trip, it brought us to a halt. Local farm-workers helped move it and we managed to limp on until we came to a repair shop/garage.

Nowadays Spain has some of the best roads in Europe.

The photo of Benidorm is of the town before it became the biggest thing in tourism and the Avenida Hotel (still there) was one of only a handful in 1959. We stayed there in a room where our balcony looked on to the open air cinema which showed mainly very old, heavily censored films, but with a cheap bottle of wine and some nibbles to enjoy, it made for a fun night. I say ‘night’ because the cinema didn’t start until midnight or later – no-one worried about the possibility of people not being able to sleep. You either slept or you went to the cinema. What? You want another option?

I think I’d better stop there as the post is getting too long. I’ve still got a bunch of photographs on the computer which I hope to downsize and caption and I’ll put a few more up after I’ve tussled with the garden where the weeds are in a defiant mood. I’ve got to get them under control before they master me.

Bremen and Bremerhaven

Posted in answer to Wander Essence’s prompt to pick a book, turn to page 79, 4th line down and write a travel piece based on that. The book is New Finnish Grammar (a novel) by Diego Marani trans. by Judith Landry and the sentence is: She was pressing her hands together desperately thinking of something to say.

Marketplace, Bremen: Photo by SofiLayla at Pixabay

‘Don’t mention the war’ they said, when I told them I was off to Bremerhaven.  But Max behaved impeccably when the subject came up.

‘Shame the old cobble stones were dug up’ I said, as he showed off his  immaculate town.  ‘Oh, we didn’t dig them up,’ he said, casually, ‘They were destroyed by bombing during the war.’  Oops. I couldn’t think of a thing to say.

Town Musicians: Photo by SofiLayla at Pixabay

I’d come to Bremerhaven to visit Max and to see for myself if a port could be as pretty as it looked in the photographs he kept sending me. 

It’s the largest fishing port in Europe and a major seaport for world trade, but it’s also a fun place.  Art Nouveau styled houses with brightly  coloured façades lend a cheery air to the serious merchant area. Street musicians, a pedestrianised shopping paradise along the waterfront, sleepy cafes and tree lined boulevards, – all this plus beaches!

Town Hall, Bremen: Photo by analogicus at Pixabay

In this flat land, somewhat reminiscent of Holland, even I could look proficient on a bike and it wasn’t long before Max and I were mounted on comfortable cycles.  The banks of the River Geeste and the surrounding forests are ideal for hiking and cycling and large parks within the city are havens of quiet when you want a rest.   We sat on the banks of the Weser for a while and watched the ships go by and then we took ourselves off to Bremerhaven’s own beach, the Weser Lido, for a spot of sunbathing with the locals.

The Weser: Photo by Nicole Pankalla at Pixabay

Just a short train ride away was the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen,  the pulsating heart of Northwest Germany.  With more than 1200 years of history in its streets and buildings there is enough architecture here to keep the hungriest culture vulture well satisfied. 

Centre of the city is Market Place, where the Schutting, seat of Bremen’s merchants for four centuries, St. Peter’s Cathedral whose towers give stunning views over the city, and the The Rathaus, dating back to 1405, are a reminder of Bremen’s glorious past.

Marketplace, Bremen: Photo by Peter Hauschild at Pixabay

We lunched in the Town Hall cellar (the Ratskeller), which has served as  an eating place for more than 500 years, sitting under a low barrel-vaulted ceiling in a cloister-like atmosphere and choosing a wine from one of over 600 fine German wines they keep in stock.  Dark wooden cubicles lined one wall (doors kept open by law!) and huge crested barrels dominate the centre of the room.   I decided on the pigs knuckle with sauerkraut, fried potatoes and pickled cucumber but I wish I had been forewarned about the size of the pig’s knuckle.   German pigs are BIG!

Snoor House: Phoro by Nicole Pankalla at Pixabay

Max suggested a visit to the vaults beneath the Cathedral to see the mummified bodies but post lunch squeamishness made me refuse.  Instead we wandered through Bremen’s oldest area, the medieval Schnoor district, once home to fishermen and sailors but now housing artists’ studios and craft shops selling unusual things like life size puppets, designer kites and dolls’ houses.  Also worth noting are the top class restaurants and shops that crowd the area.  The district was renovated  in the late 1950’s, but fortunately the developers didn’t destroy the medieval charm of the district or make the place into a Museum. 

There were craft shops too, in nearby Bottcherstrasse, where the zany house fronts with carved wall panels brought a smile to my face and the carillon made of Meissen porcelain made me marvel.  The inventor of decaffeinated coffee, one Ludwig Roselius, commissioned these buildings on the tumbledown alley he had purchased early in the 19th century.

Evening saw us in Das Viertel, the centre of Bremen’s nightlife and cafe society, the like of which I’d only seen before in old Montemartre.   Moroccan and Turkish snack bars vied with beer joints and shady looking clubs, and Dali-esque people in designer clothes clogged the pavements.  Too rich a mix for me after such a hard day’s sightseeing, so we wandered back to a quiet tavern in Schnoor for a satisfying tankard of Bremen’s best.

Blockland, Bremen: Photo by SofiLayla at Pixabay

Yes, Bremen was different.   ‘You know, Hitler never came here’ Max said as he saw me off at the station.  ‘We were always anti-fascist and he knew that.’  

That’s how different they were: they mentioned the war.


Best time to go is for the Freimarkt in October, Bremen’s answer to Munich’s Octoberfest, a huge celebration of food and drink, beer tents and sausage kiosks.  Be warned, outrageous behaviour is the order of the day. 

Carnival, Bremen: Photo by SofiLayla at Pixabay

Beck’s inn Snoor is the place to sample the local draught beer.  They also serve good seafood.  There are plenty of snack bars round and about and the food is always good and plentiful.

Restaurants:  Do keep enough dosh to eat at Natusch Fischerihafen Restaurant in Bremerhaven for great fish served almost straight from the boat.   The place is full of hearty eaters, and they often come around to ask if you want more.  Fish dishes from €25 Euros, Grills from €21.  Table d’hote Menu from €31.50 for 3 courses.  Very large portions so check what other are eating and maybe settle just for one course.  Wines by the glass very reasonable.

Germany’s Prettiest Town: Miltenberg on Main

It’s been a few years since I last visited the villages along the River Main in Germany but it was once a favourite driving holiday, especially in early spring when the flowers were in bloom and the street stalls were full of jewel coloured blooms, wrapped in flimsy coloured paper, just asking to be taken home.  Of all the lovely medieval villages along the route one of my favourites was Miltenberg, a town with a wide main street lined with half-timbered houses and small medieval alleys.   

Main Street, Tables Ready for Lunch

The beautiful houses that line its main street span the 15th – 17th centuries and the oldest dates back to 1339: what is so unusual is that all of these half-timbered dwellings are lived in.   In consequence, there is no feeling that this is a tourist site, a place where we come to gawp and take photographs.  Instead, we wander and look, dive into interesting looking shops, and stop off at cosy taverns serving local cuisine along with the wine of the area – and, of course, beer. 

The town has a few interesting sculptures dotted around the streets most of them honouring local artisans. I was also impressed by the quality of the goods for sale in the shops, at a quality-high price I may add. Even the mannikins that modelled the clothes looked beautiful as you can see from the picture below.

Viniculture and the wine trade, wood from the surrounding forests and stone, and the fact that the town was well-placed on the river for transportintg goods, was favourable to this location at the trading artery of Nuremberg and Frankfurt and the town grew rich.

One can see Miltenberg’s importance from the magnificent half-timbered houses, especially those in the Old Market Place (the Schnatterloch) and Germany’s oldest Inn, the Gasthaus zum Riesen, dating from 1590.  It claims to be Germany’s oldest Inn and an historical document tells us that a local owner at the time was granted the right to fell a hundred oak trees for its construction.   It is known for serving some of the best food in town and is especially noted for its roast salmon.

Germany’s Oldest Inn, Gasthaus ZumReisen, dating from 1590

From the Market Square to Mildenburg Castle, which was constructed in 1200 under the aegis of the Archbishop of Mainz, is an easy walk.  The castle doesn’t really comare to other castles in Germany being a relatively small fortress, but it is worth the walk if only for the wonderful views of the old city.

A small town but a supremely beautiful one, and a recommended stop on the way to or from Nuremberg or Frankfurt.

BERGEN; Gateway to the Fiords

Everyone is familiar with the old wooden houses in the area known as Bryggen in the port city of Bergen, which was rebuilt on 12th century foundations after the fire that ravaged the city in 1702. Bryggen has a place on UNESCO’S World Heritage List, but the whole city of Bergen is a designated World Heritage City. It was the largest town in Scandinavia during the middle ages and because of its position as one of the Hanseatic League’s four most important trading centres, it dominated trade for almost 400 years from its incorporation in 1360.

The world heritage site consists of the old Hanseatic wharf and buildings, an attractive place for tourists and locals and a photographer’s delight. To stroll through Bryggen’s narrow alleyways is to wander back to a bygone age: many of the small wooden houses that line these streets date back to the 18th century and have been restored and refurbished in recent years to their current impeccable state. Not only is this a heritage site but it is a living, breathing one, part of a culture still active in this historical part of the city.

I can’t think of any other city that more deserves the designation of World Heritage City: it has a fairy-tale air with a charm and atmosphere not often found in busy places. Seven mountains form the backdrop to the city and everywhere are small wooden houses, their doorways flanked by pots of brightly-coloured flowers, old cobbled streets and alleyways, and of course, Bryggen.

Surrounded by fiords and a fantastic coastline with thousands of islands, Bergen is a base for active experiences such as fiord and river rafting, scuba diving, ocean rafting, sailing, kayaking, cycling and paragliding. Those whose liking is for mountains are spoiled for choice here as all seven of the mountains that surround the city have great walking trails (the tourist board will provide maps).

If the active life is not for you, then shopping could not be better in this city of traders, (take the hop-on hop-off bus), hop on the little sight-seeing train and be guided around the area, or take one of the many guided tours on land or by boat.

And it’s said that you’ve not seen Bergen until you’ve taken a trip on the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mt. Fløyen to view the city from the spectacular viewing platform 200m above.

Cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops abound in the area, many of them selling traditional and unique crafts. Bryggen’s Museum is the place to learn about the history of the city and an impressive collection of art is housed in a row of galleries lining the picturesque Lille Lungegärdsvann Lake in the heart of the city (Art Street); or visit the Grieg Museum for a half-hour lunchtime concert and a visit to the site of the composer’s unique grave.

If museums are not your thing, then just step into the Fish Market, the open-air fruit and veg market with its stalls full of the freshest berries I’ve ever seen, wander around the wharf and admire the fishing boats, tourist boats and naval vessels. Locals resting on the seats around the basin will be eager to chat with you, fishermen tending their nets will happily talk about fish and the ever-changing kaleidoscope will keep you entertained for hours.

I didn’t spend long enough there, a mere 3 days, but it gave me a taster of what the city and its environs can offer. Some people I spoke to had arrived by cruise ship and seemed happy with their half day there. I wouldn’t have been. I think I might have cried if I’d had to leave such a gorgeous place after only a few hours. But whether its 3 hours or 3 days, Bergen will offer the visitor a lot to see and a lot to think about.

NB. Best buy – The Bergen Card: Free entrances to many Museums and activities, heavily discounted entrance fees to other places. Travel free on the Light Rail and buses. 24 hours NOK 280, senior & students 224, children 100: 48 hour NOK 360, senior & students 288, children 130

The Queen Mary in Bergen. A sad sight to see such a big cruise ship in this lovely little place.

The Amalfi Drive

White Houses Clinging to the Rocky Hillside

Known as The Amalfi Drive (formally Strada Statale 163) the coast road along the shoreline from Sorrento to Amalfi (and on to Salerno) is one of the most poular drives in Italy.  Originally built by the Romans, it is one of the most photographed coastal routes in the world, seen in countless films like Under the Tuscan Sun and the Humphrey Bogart classic Beat the Devil (1957) featuring a young Gina Lollobrigida. Gamers may recognize it as a setting for fictional tracks in Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo 4 games.  UNESCO actually named the Amalfi Coast an outstanding example of Mediterranean landscape and gave it a place on the World Heritage List.

So far down the boats are hardly recognisable

Carved out of the side of the coastal cliffs for the greater part of its route, the road gives vertiginous views down to the Tyrrhenian Sea and to the towering cliffs above. It passes through Positano, the village of the rich and famous where fabulous villas accessible only on foot from above, by helicopter from the air, or by yacht from the sea, are built into the sides of the mountain, making it a major tourist attraction.

We originally took the guided tour by coach as this seemed the easiest way to experience the drive, and we were right, but we enjoyed the trip so much that we took the local bus a few days later and enjoyed it even more.  


 We decided against stopping off at Positano however, having been warned against this by a fellow hotel guest who had been left standing for hours as the buses returning from Amalfi were all full when it reached Positano so no chance of getting on one.  Amalfi filled the day however, and we managed to fit in a trip to Ravello as well.

I have no argument with those who say that the 50 Kilometre Amalfi Coast drive is probably the world’s most beautiful and thrilling, piece of tarmac-ed sightseeing in Europe.  If you can ignore the hairpin bends, the crazy Italian driving, the narrowness of the road that means your vehicle could possibly plunge into the churning sea below, the views are spectacular.  The road is built at a very steep angle, zigzagging backwards and forwards and from the window of your vehicle you can see craggy rocks thrusting through the foamy waters below.

One of many Medieval Watchtowers on the Amalfi Drive

Despite the heavy traffic, all fighting for space on hairpin bends, the Amalfi Drive is a fascinating trip with every corner revealing an even more stunning view protected by Unesco.  Pastel-coloured villages are terraced into the mountainside, medieval watchtowers guard the coast, and here and there huge colourful ceramic urns In yellow, blue, green and red, announce a “ceramic factory”.  Among the green slopes of the cliffs are scented lemon groves and a profusion of pink and white oleanders, and enticing restaurants locate on precipitous corners daring you to stop for a coffee. This white-knuckle ride is one of Italy’s greatest wonders but it is not for the faint of heart. It is 80 kl of narrow, S-curve roadway strung halfway up a cliff with the waves crashing below.

At the end of the Drive you have Amalfi, tiny, expensive but one of the easier towns of those strung along the coast to walk around.  It rises gently up the hillside from the waterfront rather than clinging vertically to it like some of the other coastal towns, like Positano for instance.  Hard to believe that this very touristy town had a glorious history as a maritime republic on a par with the better known Pisa, Venice and Genoa. 

Nevertheless, Amalfi was a trade bridge between the Byzantine and western worlds for centuries with a population exceeding 70,000 (today, less than 5,000).   Unfortunately, there are very few historical buildings of note as most of the old city, and its inhabitants, slid into the sea during the 1343 earthquake.


My trip to Rome coincided with the heat wave which, although welcome in that it meant I didn’t need to carry around a shower-proof jacket (just in case), did mean I had to carry a paper umbrella bought from a street trader who must have thought his birthday and Christmas had come along at the same time, so many were the customers queuing up to buy his parasols.

Rome is wonderful in any weather but walking in 34ᵒ heat this time made sight-seeing a trifle difficult.  It did, however, allow for many more granitas and gelato stops, even as it cut down on the photography.

Part of the Forum

We stayed at the wonderful Forum Hotel, so named because it faces the Forum.  To wake up every morning and look out on the sprawl of ancient pillars and stones glowing from the rising sun, was magical.  We had the same view from the breakfast terrace on the rooftop, so although I usually forego breakfast, in this case it was a must. 

Part of the Forum

The Forum was ancient Rome’s showpiece centre, a site originally developed in the 7th century BC from a marshy burial ground which grew into the social, commercial and political hub of the Roman Empire.   It was a handsome district of temples, basilicas and bustling public spaces which, with a little imagination is easy to people with toga-clad inhabitants going about their business accompanied by their slaves.

Forum by Night

Part of the Forum is open for wandering around but to see it all one needs to pay.  However, I would say leave this until the end of your stay, because a) you can see some of it without charge and b) there is so much else to see in Rome and you can always return to it if you wish.

The Colosseum by Night (Photo Solange Hando)

It is but a short walk from the Forum to the Colosseum, the hugely impressive, troubling monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty.  Inside this emblem of Rome, behind the serried ranks of Tuscan, Iconic and Corinthian columns, and three storeys of superimposed arches, Romans for centuries cold-bloodedly killed thousands of people for amusement, and sent gladiators to their death as they fought wild animals like lions, tigers and leopards for the amusement of the rulers and the populace.

Inside the Colosseum

The Colosseum is now a mere shadow of its former self as only about one-third of the original building still stands, its glistening marble and stone having been carried away and used in the building of palaces and churches by Roman popes and aristocrats who coveted it. Nearby Palazzo Venezia and the Tiber’s river defences are just two examples of this.

Looking down at the pits from which the animals would emerge

Originally the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, a pleasure palace built for the people by the emperor Vespasian (69-79) to a design worked out before the building began, it was capable of holding 50,000 spectators,  

It is difficult not to quote sizes and quantities in such an undertaking, suffice to say that drains were built 8m beneath the structure to take away the streams that flow from the valleys and hills that surround Rome: the foundations under the outer walls and seating are 12-13m deep while under the inner part of the arena they are only 4m deep.  The spoil dug from the foundations was used to raise the surround level by over 6m. 

Sometimes quoting facts and figures like these can take away from the brooding power of the Colosseum, but I never fail to be moved by an atmosphere still inside those walls. 

The Victor Emmanuel Palace. 

Vittorio Emmanuel ll Palace

 Also known as ‘Il Vittoriano’ and sometimes referred to as The Wedding Cake Palace by the locals, this monument to King Victor Emanuel II, is a bombastic monument of sparkling white marble decorated with numerous allegorical statues, reliefs and murals.  At the center of the monument is the colossal equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel, and on either side are fountains representing the seas that border Italy, the Adriatic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea.  At the foot of the statue Guards of honor, selected from the marine, infantry and air divisions, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier day and night.

The Vittorio Emmanuel ll Palace

Inside the monument is the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento, which charts the events that led to the unification of Italy, with a display of paintings, documents, photographs and memorabilia, the entrance to which is to the left of the monument, at the Via di San Pietro in Carcere.

During the 1930’s, the Italian dictator, Mussolini, delivered his speeches to the populace from the terraces and balconies of this building.

The Victor Emmanuel Monument cannot be considered one of Rome’s most beautiful buildings and its stark whiteness does not fit well into the soft ochre color of the surrounding buildings.  Nevertheless, it is well worth the visit if only for the great views from the top (which is also connected to the Capitoline Square which may also be on your list).

A useful tip for visitors:  You will see lots of advertisements – everywhere – to buy tickets that “skip-the-queues” and indeed you do skip the line for tickets.  But unfortunately, after many years of this, the queue for the “skip-the-queue” line is much longer than the normal one to buy tickets at the office, so take my advice, ignore this (and ignore the touts who will offer you tickets for immediate entry), join the queue for tickets and you’ll be through in no time.

Next post:  Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.

Is it me? WP? Or gremlins?

Just to say that I’ve heard nothing from any of you lovely bloggers out there whose posts regularly pop into my Inbox to cheer me up. Finally, feeling both frustrated and cross, I approached WP for a reason as I knew you would all be posting and they suggested I check my Notifications page.

So I did. And guess what. A gremlin, or something, or somebody, had been in there an ticked the box to block all notifications. I am at a loss to account for this as I’ve never even seen this page to my knowledge.

But anyway, just so you know why you haven’t had any comments from me. I’m still here, not able to post due to pressure of things, but hoping to start soon, and meantime, I shall try and catch up with everyone’s recent posts.


Sculpture Saturday

One day late

Unknown in Salamanca

They must have run out of plaques when they erected this sitting man statue on the walls in Salamanca but a student told me it was the writer Unomuno. It’s not shown among the 20 most famous statues in that city of many statues, but I loved it.

Link to Sculpture Saturday

Wish You Were Here

Lock down helps remind us of old friends. It also reminds me of when I used to send and receive a lot of postcards, and I remembered also the blog I wrote some years ago. Maybe now is the time to re-blog (and as it’s such a lovely day I can relax outdoors without feeling I should get on with sorting out my photographs for a new blog)!

Mari's Travels with her Camera

Today I got a postcard from abroad! So what? you may think.

So absolutely fantastic that I did an impromptu jig in the hallway when I picked it up before reverently placing it in a prominent position so that I could look at it and admire it for a few more days.


Do you remember how exciting it was to receive a postcard in the days when people sent you postcards? Those mountain views, seascapes, hotels with the X placed just where the sender’s room was? The whiff of abroad that unsettled you as you sweltered in a stuffy office or maybe dreamed in your kitchen or garage as the evenings grew shorter and the winter light faded? You remember it now?

Mount Fuji, Japan

Next time you’re away from home, put away your smartphone, pack up the tablet, venture out and into the touristy gift shops and…

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Word Press not Helping

I don’t know if anyone out there can help me. I’ve been unable to Post for 2-3 weeks now because I cannot upload images. Last year I Upgraded in order to have the extra space for images along with other facilities and I have the receipt for this and account shows that it is not due for renewal until October 2020 when it will be taken from my account.

When I changed my theme accidentally a few weeks ago, it reverted to a Free theme and I think this is why it will not allow me to add more images, although why it should have reverted I cannot imagine.

I have put 5 Help messages up on the Forum but although my query is acknowledge and I am told someone will get back to me I have never heard again from anyone. After delving into the murky innards of my account with WP I discovered that the email address there was an old one which I discarded over two years ago. I re-validated this to ensure they had my current email address even though I receive regular notifications from them at this current address.

I don’t know what else to do except to discard the whole thing and start all over again with a new WP site but I am loathe to go down this road. There seems to be no way of contacting them other than putting a message on the Forums (done) and sending a message to the Helpline (done). I gave them my current email address and also pointed out that my WP is not which is the only site showing.

Anyone got any other ideas?




Hey, I hadn’t realized I had changed my blog theme!

I had ‘lost’ my blog, something I’d also done six years ago, and it’s taken me 2-3 days to get it sorted out with the help of the nice people on the WP Help Forum. Meantime, passing the time I was looking at other Themes and clicking on them to see what they looked like. I hadn’t meant to change my theme, but obviously, I have done so – even using one of their header photos. It’s not a bad theme, but when I have more time I shall have to come back and change it again, either to what I had before or something different.

When I have more time, that’s a joke isn’t it? but it seems that the more time I have on lock-down the less time I seem to have to do essential things. Mind you, I’ve done a lot of sorting out, (bags full of stuff for the charity shops when they re-open), tidying up in general, and fulfilling those halfhearted resolutions I made at New Year. Half my day seems to be spent making lists for the grocery slots I might get!

Unlocking the Past

April, 2020: I miss a lot during these days of lock-down, of isolation and no contact with friends, but what I’m missing more than I thought I would is the work I and a group of other volunteers have been doing with our County Archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Waller. 

“The past is another country “said J.P. Hartley, but I don’t think he had in mind the 13th or 14th centuries when he said that. It is something very obvious to me however, as a volunteer with the Brading Community Archive Group, when I open a centuries-old Rate Book, a Fee Farm Rent Book or a Poor Rate Book.  For over a year now we have been working on unlocking the past through old documents, books, paintings and photographs from the village of Brading on the Isle of Wight, a project made possible by a Grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and without which the project would not be possible.

Old Brading – British Library Print from Villages & Geographical Maps

The end result will be that books and documents which have been hidden away for centuries will be transcribed and available online to researchers.  The original documents will be seen side by side with the transcribed documents and will also be available in paper form for researchers.

Charles lst gave this once thriving seaport as security for a loan from the City of London.  Today Brading is no longer a coastal seaway: after failed attemps in the 16th century the marshes were finally drained and the embankment completed on 1881 which enabled the railway system to progress.

Brading Norman Church, Old Town Hall with Stocks Below – Photo Mari Nicholson

Brading’s history is apparent from the Norman Church at the top of the incline to the well-preserved 16th and 17th century houses that line both sides of the High Street with their eclectic range of windows, roofs and chimneys.  Next to the church is the old town hall, a stone and brick building with an open arcade housing the stocks and whipping post, once the site of the butchers’ shambles for the market first held in 1285.

It is here that we work, in the Old Town Hall, a musty room over the stocks, a cold place in the winter as we can’t have heating because of the fragility of the books.

One of Brading’s attractive buildings – Photo by James Stringer

As bacteria, acids, oils and dirt on our hands can be transferred to the materials we are working on, disposable rubber gloves are worn at all times, no food or drink is allowed on the premises and it goes without saying that no pens are allowed anywhere near the documents or books (all notes must be taken using pencils).  Working on the books is done according to prescribed rules: opening them at 1800 could cause irreparable damage (1200 is the maximum opening) and tightly bound books should be opened no more than 900.     To prevent damage to the spine they are opened in a box made into a sort of cradle and as fragile surfaces must not be touched pages must never to be turned by the corners, and more ….  And I haven’t got to photographs and pictures yet!

Before we got to the transcribing stage we had to carefully clean the books with special brushes which wouldn’t damage the paper, first the front, back and spine, then each page.  When I say this was boring, believe me, I’m not exaggerating.  After that, each book was wrapped in special acid-free paper, tied up with acid-free cotton tape, given a number which was attached to it and then placed carefully on shelves ready for the next stage. 

Original Stocks, under the Old Town Hall – Photo Mari Nicholson

In the midst of all this ancient paraphanalia we sit among modern technology, overhead scanners, laptops, computer storage devices etc. 

Once the transcribing began the brain was engaged and the fascination with ancient ways and history meant that even two cold winters in the Old Town Hall could be coped with – just!  As well as remembering that 1752 was the first year in England to begin on January 1st (until then the New Year began officially on March 25th, Lady Day) there was the fact that two centuries earlier, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII had reformed the Julian calendar because it did not conform to the solar system, and cut 10 days from the year.   England did not follow other European countries in this and remained ten days behind until an adjustment was made in 1752 and these days removed.   Then there are Regnal years versus calendar years and other hazards for the careless transcriber, one of the trickiest being documents written in the reign of Charles ll who came to the throne in May 1660 although he calculated his regnal year as beginning on 30 January 1649 the date of his father’s execution.  These anomalies do not interfere with the actual transcription of the documents but they have to be kept in mind for dating purposes.

The actual transcription has to retain the original spelling and as spelling in English was not standardised until the 18th century this can create difficulties.  Before then phonetic spelling was used and people wrote in the local dialect so when transcribing it is often necessary to say the word aloud as it appears on the page to get a sense of what the word might be.  It is useful to know where the document was written or by whom as a word written by someone who spoke in a Somerset dialect say, could differ in spelling from that of a Londoner. 

Old Brading – British Library Print from Villages & Geographical Maps

The books and documents themselves are fascinating and sometimes one can spend too long reading about the fines for allowing a pig to roam in the street, money requested for footware for a shoeless child of the village, for a cart to take an old woman to the Workhouse, or for bread for a hungry family.  One is made aware of the importance of policing certain trades by the weights and measures being strictly kept under lock and key and checked and signed for each year, and made to wonder at the many pubs the village supported.  There are many sad tales and one is grateful beyond words to have been born in this present day and age where despite its failings, there is a safety net to catch all but the most vulnerable in our society.

Part of Brading High Street – Photo James Murray

We shall be working on the books for another year at least, but once away from the ancient past and into the 20th century it will get easier, and I dare say, less interesting.  Coronation street parties, the coming of street lighting and the contract to the lamp-lighter (£16 a year), are still fascinating but I shall miss the dark, old days, when life was ruled by the rising and setting of the sun and when having the price of a candle meant that a woman could wear her eyes out doing sewing to make an exra few pennies to feed the family.

When the lock-down is over and things return to normal, our little band of volunteers will return once more to our job of unlocking the past so that future generations will be able to research the history and times of Brading, Isle of Wight.  Although it is but a small town on an island, the broad outlines of how it was run apply equally to towns and villages all over the country and the knowledge gained by looking at this one small town gives an insight into England’s governance at a micro level.